Three who had the right idea at the right time

Three who had the right idea at the right time

By Dean Takahashi / Mercury News
Article Launched: 01/02/2008 01:54:35 AM PST

This column is about people you hate. They’re overnight
successes in the Internet business and they make the rest of us look
dumb and unlucky. Guy Kawasaki, a veteran of many start-ups and Apple’s
former evangelist, interviewed them at the recent AlwaysOn Venture
Capital Summit for a panel titled "Why Take Venture Capital At All?"

Inside the swanky Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay resort, Kawasaki talked to
entrepreneurs who had the right idea at the right time. Their
businesses took off and they barely needed funding at all.

Drew Curtis, the founder of the humor Web site Fark.com,
said he has managed to get 52 million page views a month from 4 million
unique visitors. I enjoy Fark, which basically is news of the weird
that makes you laugh. People submit ideas for funny stories, and he and
his crew put the best ones on the site. Curtis lives in Kentucky,
drinks beer and plays a lot of soccer to counter the effects of the
beer.

He got the idea for Fark.com
as a "complete accident" back in 1999. "I did it because I was annoying
the people I was sending the stories to," he said. By the time it
gathered momentum, the bottom had fallen out of the dot-com market so
Curtis didn’t raise any money.

"Still, it was basically my own personal Web site," he said. "It’s almost on auto pilot."

They get about 2,000 stories a day and then sort through them. He notes that every late-night talk show and comedy show uses stuff from Fark.com
but they don’t credit it. He reads through them from 7 a.m. until 5
p.m., when his soccer game starts. He says he is usually so drunk at
night that he signs off early.

"I’m having trouble feeling sorry for you, hanging out in Kentucky," Kawasaki said.

Curtis said that four friends help him do the sorting because they have
the same kind of sense of humor that he has. Sometimes he disappears
and no one notices.

Markus Frind of Vancouver, British Columbia, runs a free online dating
site, Plenty of Fish, out of his apartment. He gets 1.2 billion page
views a month from 50 million unique visitors. Frind said he started
the company because he needed to learn a new software program dubbed ASP.net.

"I needed to learn so that I could get another job," he said. "I built
it in two weeks and it started to get traffic. It never occurred to me
to raise money."

He and his girlfriend worked on it and he said, "My girlfriend didn’t
really want to do anything so I hired an actual employee." Kawasaki
asked him, "What is the biggest single check you’ve ever gotten from
Google AdSense?" Frind answered, "$900,000. That was for two months."

Frind said he beats out eHarmony and others thanks to "lots of
automation." He said one person goes through the site and "forwards me
the police requests." Kawasaki asked how many police requests come in.
Frind said about two a week.

The traffic is taking more and more servers. He now has 12 servers in a
vault, storing 50 terabytes a month. About 300 million files a day are
sent out.

Blake Commagere, co-founder of San Francisco-based Mogad, said he had a
"string of unsuccessful companies, none of which you’ve heard of." But
in his last project he created something that is spreading like
wildfire on the Facebook social-networking site: the Zombies and
Vampires social game. In five months, there have been 20 million users.
But there are about 5 million unique visitors who are active and the
monthly page views are just shy of 500 million.

"How much?" Kawasaki asked in disbelief. "Half a billion," Commagere
replied. That means the players of the game are committed and they’re
generating hundreds of page views each.

All Commagere was trying to do was annoy and amuse his friends. They
were annoyed with him when they found out he disappeared for two weeks
to create a dumb game. "It was created as a joke, just to make me
laugh," he said. "As it took off, I said, ‘Oh god, I have to get
resources into this.’ "

Commagere said it’s a very simple game that is designed to spread from
person to person. The reward system gets users hooked so they can get
to the next level and see new pictures of zombies. He figured he
shouldn’t even try to ask for venture capital because he would get
laughed out of the room.

"People would probably be terrified if I told them about how off-the-cuff everything was," he said.

 

 


Contact Dean Takahashi at dtakahashi@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5739.
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